Queer feminist Christian woman of colour, living on Wurundjeri land.
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Temperature Preferences

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There's a supposed Mark Twain quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." It isn't really by Mark Twain, but I don't know who said it—I just know they've never been to McMurdo Station.
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claudinec
5 days ago
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So true. Wellington, Edinburgh and San Francisco are at the top of my revisit/migrate list for the weather as well as the culture.
Melbourne, Australia
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Standalone Signal Desktop

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Standalone version of Signal running on a laptop.

Signal Desktop is now available in a new, standalone form, and the Chrome App has been deprecated.

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claudinec
14 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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1 public comment
lioman
20 days ago
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signal has a standalone application for desktops
Karlsruhe
ChrisDL
20 days ago
nice tl;dr =)

Digital Resource Lifespan

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I spent a long time thinking about how to design a system for long-term organization and storage of subject-specific informational resources without needing ongoing work from the experts who created them, only to realized I'd just reinvented libraries.
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claudinec
20 days ago
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Books FTW.
Melbourne, Australia
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kleer001
21 days ago
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One of reasons I'm so resistant to dumping my audio cd collection, streaming is flaky. Also why I just got a portable bluray drive.
acdha
21 days ago
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Basically my job. It’s hard to get people to think about the inherent nature of formats: digital is easy to copy perfectly but it rots as soon as people stop using it. Too many people are obsessed with the physical storage layer rather than the never-stop-moving part…
Washington, DC

Academic writing is like a painful, upper middle class dinner party

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This blog post is part of a series dedicated to developing ideas for a new book I am writing with Shaun Lehmann (@painlessprose on Twitter) and Katherine Firth of the Research Voodoo blog. “Writing Trouble” will be a Swiss army knife of a book, containing range of strategies and tactics for fixing academic writing that is good, but not yet great.

We generated chapter titles from the bad feedback PhD students have told us about over the years. Parts of this post will end up in chapter two: “Your writing doesn’t sound very academic”: how to convince your reader you belong”. The book will be published by Open University Press and will hopefully be out in late 2018. If you’re interested in knowing more about the book before we publish, you can sign up for our writing trouble mailing list.

Although I got reasonable marks for my creative essays in high school,  literary criticism was never my strong suit. One of the issues with my analytical writing was that I didn’t really understand how to use verbs.  It wasn’t until I nearly finished my masters degree that I found out that verbs function in academic conversation much like table manners at a middle class dinner party.

Let me explain.

I owe much of my education in verbs to the good work of Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler and their excellent book ‘Helping Doctoral Students Write’. This book was crucial for helping me understand that in humanities writing, the verb you use to describe someone else’s work indicates your feeling about the quality of the work. For instance, “Mewburn (2010) argues…” is kinder than “Mewburn (2010) asserts…”. By using the verb ‘argues’ I invite the reader to consider that what Mewburn is doing is actually arguing – a scholar who asserts is not really a scholar at all.

Looking up the verbs in a dictionary makes the difference quite plain. According to Google, the first definition of ‘argues’ is “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” By contrast, the definition for ‘asserts’ is “cause others to recognize (one’s authority or a right) by confident and forceful behavior”. In the humanities, at least these days, we are meant to make knowledge by persuasion, not through authority. Authority is used more often in political or religious arguments. If you read back into the history of Western academia, you will find examples of writing that seems very strange to contemporary eyes. The tone is much more commanding and confident – this was because the origins of Western universities were monastic and it was acceptable to make an argument on the grounds that God had ordained something.

Times have changed (despite what some Australian politicians would like to think). When you think about it, most academic writing is highly passive aggressive. By using a verb to express your evaluation of someone else’s work you avoid directly stating your opinion, leaving it up to the reader to infer what you think. To read between the lines if you like. In academic writing you would never, for example, write “Mewburn (2010) is shit – don’t bother reading this paper. She’s a rubbish scholar”. You’d say something like: “Mewburn (2010) relies on insufficient evidence”.

You mean the same thing, but it’s you know – polite. At least it’s polite according to dominant cultural norms in academia which, it’s important to recognise, are not ‘natural’. While some people struggle mightily with the idea that verbs are like manners at a middle class dinner party, Indigenous students, and people who are first in family to get to University, tend to get it straight away. When I shared this analogy with one Wiradjuri woman she laughed and said “Right, so to succeed in the academy I have to write like an uptight white person? That makes perfect sense. I’m surrounded by them all the time”.

Sadly true.

Kamler and Thomson were writing for humanities scholars, but their work led me to develop an interest in deep nerd grammar within the sciences. The most interesting difference between science writing and humanities writing is the use of verbs, or rather – the lack of them. When scientists are evaluating the work of other scientists they tend to drop the verb altogether. In the brilliant “Disciplinary Discourses: social interactions in academic writing” (told you it was nerdy) Ken Hyland points out that scientists will make a statement and then put the reference for the fact at the end of the sentence, like so (totally made up example):

“The molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”.

By placing the reference at the end and not associating it with a verb, the scientist ‘imports’ this idea without comment and effectively expects the reader to accept the idea as fact. Even when they do include verbs, scientists do it in ‘sciencey’ ways. If the scientist was inclined to more ‘flowerly’ language, they might use a neutral verb, for instance:

“It has been shown that molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”

In this sentence, the passsive voice functions to leave out the identity of the person who showed how the molecules cluster, that’s because, generally, in the sciences the identity of the person who did the work is irrelevant. Scientists are assumed to be identical to each other and employ scientific methods and procedures exactly the same way. This point of view has been questioned by some who argue that scientists are human like the rest of us, but that’s not a Pandora’s box that I need to open here. To complicate matters further, not all scientists use verbs in this way all the time. Hyland points out that Biologists are the outliers of the science world and tend to deploy verbs much more like humanities people. In other words, it’s complicated, but you need to know the norms of your ‘tribal dialect’ to fit in.

So how can you operationalise this knowledge? Well, unless you want to take a risk challenge academic norms (and hey – don’t let me stop you!), give your writing an ‘uptight white person’ make over. Grab a few papers from scholars you admire and make a list of the verbs they use. Then cluster the verbs into three columns based on a passive aggressive index: “this work is great”, “This work is fine” and “this work is terrible”. You can look at my own verb cheat sheet as a model, but you’re best advised to make your own.

When you’re finished, stick your cheat sheet to your wall. While you are doing your literature review, examine your feelings about the work you are reading, and then pick a verb from the list that fits your judgment. Varied verb use will make your writing more interesting and precise If you are a science student, closely examine your own verb placement and compare it to work in your discipline – could you afford to use a few more verbs? Or do you need to pare it back?

I hope that’s clear – I’ll be making edits when I put this post into the book, so your questions are helpful!

More Writing Trouble posts:

Don’t let those ‘sticky words’ confuse your examiners

The vagueness problem in academic writing






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claudinec
52 days ago
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“Right, so to succeed in the academy I have to write like an uptight white person? That makes perfect sense. I’m surrounded by them all the time.”
Melbourne, Australia
pfctdayelise
52 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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duerig
51 days ago
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I write in the sciences and this is pretty accurate. I'd add two extra subtleties.

First, for science writing, there is a difference between citation in 'related work' sections and citations elsewhere. In the 'related work' section, we cite more like the humanities folks do. And it often sounds like passive-aggressive insults. Because the purpose of the related work section is to both acknowledge similar contributions, but also show how your contribution is different and better.

Second, in the rest of the paper, I use citations almost exclusively when I want to make a non-controversial assertion. The thesis of the paper as a whole is a controversial assertion that I am attempting to back up with reasoning, data, and assertions that aren't subject to controversy. So the citations act as annotations that let me tag certain things as reliable, already-known, and understood to undergird my main argument.

It is actually pretty rare for one paper to refute another in my field. If a paper is no longer considered reliable, it is much more likely that it will just no longer be cited.

09/13/17 PHD comic: 'Impostor Attack'

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Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Impostor Attack" - originally published 9/13/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

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claudinec
67 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Handmaids Down Under

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Quokkas, I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. Both book and (2017) adaptation. (The ’80s movie is streaming on Stan – do we need a liveblog? Maybe we need a liveblog. But we’ll also need wine. I mean, I’ll need wine.)

One of the things I enjoyed is that, like a lot of Canadian science fiction — sorry, Margaret Atwood, speculative fiction — it leaves space in its worldbuilding for the rest of the world to exist. Even within the narrow confines of book!Offred’s perspective, we know that Japanese tourism and gender relations maintain the current status quo, or something close to it, and the wider perspective of the Hulu series gives us glimpses of Canada and Mexico.

Sometimes I wonder what that kind of extreme patriarchal dystopia would look like in Australia, given that we were colonised by Georgians and Victorians instead of Puritans.

And other times I wonder, well, while the USA has collapsed and Gilead has formed out of its ashes, what’s happening back home?

The_Handmaid's_Tale_intertitle.png

Here are some thoughts.

  • For no reason in particular, refugees from America, especially white women, are treated really well, so strange, no one can account for it.
  • Especially if they’re fertile.
  • Officially the fertility crisis has been caused by disease and pollution, but some brave Liberal Party MPs have had the courage to ask … what if it’s because we’re not burning enough coal????
  • Look, I think we know exactly which parties’ voters set up the local chapter of the Sons of Jacob.
  • They’re not sexist, though, ‘cos they still love Pauline Hanson.
  • Mark Latham totally joins up, but he gets kicked out after he starts a punch up
  • Obviously Australia’s not officially adopting the Handmaid system, just like we’re not officially importing Handmaids from the former US.
  • Having said that, SCEGGS has been converted into a Rachel and Leah Center Centre, and Aunt Miranda and Aunt Helen have their cattle prods charged and ready.
  • I was going to make a joke about Aussie Handmaids wearing cork hats instead of Puritan bonnets, but Stephanie told me that millennials sustainable wine consumers have killed the cork industry.
  • The Liberal Party is still pushing a plebiscite on marriage equality, but first they have to make it illegal for queer people to read and write.
  • The Greens have been predicting the end of the ANZUS treaty for years. At this point, the treaty has outlasted the United States. New Zealand keeps going, “Um, guys?”
  • Everything is fine in New Zealand, except that they have too many feijoas and they’re drowning in surplus L&P.
  • Mamamia publishes an article about how empowering it is to be a Handmaid.
  • The writer is not paid.





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claudinec
104 days ago
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" Mamamia publishes an article about how empowering it is to be a Handmaid.
The writer is not paid."
Melbourne, Australia
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